We caught one of those really late flights into Tucson on a Thursday night, signed for our rental car and drove to the hotel nearby. We were beat. It had been a work day for both of us. Now it was past midnight, but I had a hard time falling asleep knowing that in the morning, we would be driving to the ranch to see El Mariachi, Hope and Michael Blake. I was like a little kid – so excited.

We were up early and on our way. We figured the horses would probably still be eating breakfast by the time we arrived.

(Click on the images for a larger/sharper views)

We're almost there - the road to Michael's ranch.

And there he is – enjoying his breakfast and wondering who the visitors are. SO good to see him!

Not comfortable with strangers, the horses leave the barn area for the acreage where they keep a constant eye on us.

I decided to follow them to see about some photos, but they made a big circle around me and went back to the barn. πŸ™‚

We spent a bit of time saying hello to the other horses and then decided to go up to Wolf House to see Michael. We parked next to his old truck and I cracked up when Meowski popped up from inside to greet us.

Hello Meowski!

It’s always great to see Michael too. We caught up a bit and then went back down to the horses so Michael could work.

Something has Hope's attention

The horses were headed down to the creek area, so Tom and I decided to tag along, enjoy the cool air and scenery.

I noticed this freshly chewed cactus plant. Wonder what was dining on this just before we showed up?

I think whatever it was might live under this rock ledge

We heard some whistling so we started back towards the barn. It was Michael letting us know it was time to put the wild ones in the arena and let the other horses out for the afternoon.

The horses know this routine pretty well. El Mariachi and Hope went right into the arena.

Michael has more horses than he did the last time we visited. He rescued three Mustang mares that were slaughter bound. They live with Tomas and Little Boy and seem to be adjusting well to their new lives and home.

L-R: Gypsy, Little Boy and Tomas

Michael with Gypsy

Shelby has really distinct markings

With the horses penned up for the afternoon, Tom and I decided it would be a good time to hike into the national forest and back up to the grotto.

Looking down at the horses and yes, El Mariachi is still watching us. Ever alert that boy.

No water in the grotto this time, but with those clouds, maybe there will be.

We’re joined by Diana and Timid.

And Scout came along as well. Tough old girl she is.

Diana is a beautiful Belgian Shepherd - a rescue of course.

Big, gorgeous landscapes all around

The afternoon flew by and it was time to feed. Back to the barn.

This is Smudge. I got very few pictures of her. Smudge is really distrusting and didn’t want anything to do with us. I hate to think what she’s been through.

Time to put the girls, Tomas and Little Boy back into their paddock area for the night. They seem to get along well, sharing stalls and eating together. Both Little Boy and Tomas seem happy with the female companionship.

L-R: Tomas, Gypsy, Shelby and Little Boy in the back

Michael says goodnight to Shelby

One more photo of El Mariachi.

We spent the evening listening to more of Michael’s stories and chatting away until we all called it a night. Tomorrow we were looking forward to guests at the ranch.

I slept like a baby…

Part Two of this series: https://nickolesphotography.wordpress.com/2011/03/13/el-mariachi-hope-february-2011-part-2/

Part Three of this series: https://nickolesphotography.wordpress.com/2011/03/25/el-mariachi-hope-february-2011-part-3/

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Our departure to Arizona didn’t seem certain when we started for the airport. There was a winter storm warning in effect and the early morning ride to the airport was a little tense with the sideways blowing snow. But, we boarded on time and it looked like we were about to go from snow to sun in just a couple of hours. We were delayed at bit while we went through the de-icing procedure (never experienced that before!), but despite the weather, we had a smooth and uneventful flight.

This trip was going to be extra special because we were bringing my niece Ariel along as well as my Mom, who is now in remission.

Upon our arrival, we met up with long-time and dear friends, John and Judy Austin. They winter in Tucson, so they were able to follow us out to the ranch to meet Michael and the horses.

You have to drive your vehicle through the creek to get to Michael's ranch. This was the first time we've seen it with the water running. Arizona has gotten a lot of rain so far this year.

This is the creek that runs through Michael's property.

Our first view of the horses. L-R: Hope, Little Boy and El Mariachi

It was so good to see Little Boy standing with El Mariachi and Hope. When Michael’s mare, and Little Boy’s constant companion Samantha died in December, Little Boy went through a very rough period. He was off his feed, got sick and Michael worried that he might lose both of them. But, he seems to have turned a corner and he’s hanging out with the two wild horses more who seem perfectly happy to have him around.

Hope and El Mariachi

It wasn’t long before Michael came down from Wolf House and joined us all at the barn. Of course, we were equally as happy to see him too! πŸ™‚

Michael with Tomas

L-R: Mom, Judy, John and Michael (with Tomas)

L-R: Me, Michael, Mom, John and Judy

Ariel with Little Boy

Little Boy, Michael and Ariel. Little Boy is so sweet. Here he's using Michael to rub his head on.

L-R: John, Michael, Ariel and Tommy (taking photos).

Ariel and Tomas

Tomas wants just a little taste of Ariel's shirt

Handsome boy

Tired of posing...

We hung around the barn for quite a while and then the horses decided to venture out onto the rest of the property.

Hope hides amongst the cacti

Shy girl Hope

Little Boy

We were a little early for most of the desert flowers, but we did see some blooming already

More signs of Spring. A nest with eggs wonderfully protected in a jumping cholla cactus.

It was so nice to see the horses's creek flowing. I know they must enjoy it too.

Hoof prints!

Tomas next to a Saguaro cactus

Peeking out at me

A horse can really hide in all that vegetation

Hope is such a pretty little mare. Love her sweet face, her big, soft eyes and her cute little white eyelashes.

Playfully biting El Mariachi on the leg

After visiting with the horses for about an hour, John and Judy headed home while the rest of us went up to Wolf House to relax and spend some time with Michael. He’s so interesting and always wants to know how we’re doing as well. It was fun to see how comfortable Ariel was with Michael too. She’s very outgoing and seems to engage people easily. I was happy she was able to come (though we missed her twin sister Tai and fiance Kirk!).

We were all beat, so we left for our motel just before dark after saying goodnight to the horses.

All of us managed to get up early Saturday for morning light photos back at the ranch. Early morning and late afternoon are the best times to photograph and are my favorite times of the day anyway.

I just can't take too many photos of this gorgeous horse

Ariel takes her Grammie down to the arena to see the horses

Tommy decided to take a short hike while we visited with the horses

Tomas is such a character. He just has to touch or taste everything.

What a goofball

After visiting with the horses for a bit, we all headed up to Michael’s studio to see him off. He had been invited to share an “incredible” experience with his long-time friend Kevin Costner who was performing with his band “Kevin Costner and Modern West” in Germany and Slovakia. All you can say is WOW to that, right? I’d be gone too! (Modern West also has a Facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/kevincostnerandmodernwest?ref=ts – and guess who signed on as a fan?).

Mom with Michael

L-R: Me, Ariel, Michael and Mom (with Diana and Scout).

Michael and Tommy standing against the truck that Michael drove out to the Black Hills of South Dakota to film his Academy Award winning movie, Dances With Wolves.

(Upon his return, I asked Michael about his trip and he shared this with me: “Kevin Costner’s Modern West is a unique blend of great star power from Kevin and magnificent, inspiring music from a band that plays as if there is no tomorrow. Although they have drawn large crowds in America their recent tour of Europe has never been equaled according to foreign promoters. Modern West played almost thirty shows in six weeks in virtually every country. Each performance drew between 1,500 and 2,000 viewers. Many came to see Kevin Costner but all the young and the old were blown away by the thrilling music and singing Kevin and Modern West bestowed on them. I was given the opportunity to see the last five shows of the tour…four in Germany and one in Slovakia. Each one was remarkable in many different ways but at the end, what they played and sang on stage made memories that will last. Kevin is currently involved in several different films but Modern West will play a few shows in America and Canada through the rest of 2010. Music has been this writer’s greatest inspiration and Modern West is deeply connected with all the rest that have filled my heart and soul with belief in life.”)

This photo hangs in Michael's barn. It was taken at the Academy Awards in 1991. It took a tumble and is a little bruised, but a memory like this one looks good in any condition. L-R: Jim Wilson, Kevin Costner and Michael Blake with their Oscars from Dances With Wolves.

Before Michael left for the airport, he suggested that Tom, Ariel and I check out the “grotto” which was just outside his property in the national park. Michael said it was a very unique and beautiful area along the creek. The three of us grabbed some drinks and our cameras and with Diana as our guide, we started following a path that would lead us to the fence line.

Ariel and Tom - Tom was attacked by a Jumping Cholla cactus on the way. He said it really did seem to jump out at him and then it just stuck to him. Michael's friend Rick (who was taking care of the critters) helped Tom rid himself of the prickly aggressor. Of course Ariel and I taunted him about the ambush afterwards.

Our guide, Diana

Looking back at the ranch - the arrow points to a tiny El Mariachi walking along the creek

El Mariachi and Tomas

Looking back towards the ranch from the national park trail

After we hiked way past the grotto, we finally turned around and eventually found it. Diana is looking at the grotto area, but it's still pretty hard to make out.

Ariel and Diana at the grotto. What a wonderful reprieve for a black dog in the desert - even though the temps were perfect during our stay (in the 70's and low 80's).

Me and Ariel at the grotto

Me, Diana and Tom

Diana in the lower left corner looking towards the ranch

The hike to the grotto was a wonderful way to enjoy the surroundings when it wasn’t blazing hot outside. It was nice of Michael to share his little treasure with us.

On our way back to the motel, we took a scenic drive through Saguaro National Park. I’d hoped to see both a Gila monster and a desert tortoise, but I was told it was still a little early for the Gila monster to be out and about. Maybe next time. It’s a beautiful drive if you’re ever in the area.

John and Judy shared a very good Mexican restaurant with us Saturday evening. Family, good friends, good beer, margaritas and food. Perfect way to end the day.

Sunday morning, we left Mom to enjoy a leisurely breakfast with John and Judy while Ariel, Tom and I drove out to see the horses. We were meeting a new friend and her daughter at the gate house to the ranch.

I had “met” Cindy Cartwright through this blog. She’d made a comment on a post about the horses (she lives in Arizona) and we corresponded back and forth (we’re Facebook friends as well where Cindy is a very active animal welfare advocate). Cindy told me about her beautiful Mustang mare Sierra that she had rescued along with another horse. I had hoped to photograph her mare while we were visiting. Tragically, Cindy lost her Sierra just two days before we arrived. I didn’t even know what to say when she shared her heartbreaking news. I knew the loss was devastating. Despite the circumstances, Cindy still wanted to get together, so I asked her if she’d like to come out to the ranch to meet the horses.

Read Cindy’s touching story of Sierra with many photos here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stillintime/sets/72157623766338432/

Good morning boy

Ariel and Little Boy

Cindy's daughter Jacky, Little Boy and Ariel

Jacky with Tomas. Jacky is a real horse and animal lover.

Tom gently rubs Little Boy's eyes for him. He likes it!

Watching the horses enjoy the morning together

Ariel gave her cameras a real workout. I was proud of her!

Our new friend Cindy.

Cindy, Jacky and Little Boy

Jacky with Little Boy

Little Boy

You can barely see his hooves in the air, but the arrow points to a rolling El Mariachi

All together grazing

Using Little Boy as a scratching post

Sharing a drink at the creek

Back at the arena

Michael was very generous (as usual) with Ariel and gave her several of his books. She finished this one, Like A Running Dog, and started on Dances With Wolves while we were there. She's an avid reader and writer. And, Michael has a new fan.

Jacky with Timid

How can such a pretty girl...

Make such a face!

We crammed alot of activities into the limited time we had, so after visiting with Cindy, Jacky and the horses for a couple of hours, it was time to pick up Mom and drive over to the Santa Rita mountains to share lunch with Marianne Blake and the kids (delicious home-made bread and chicken – yumm!).

Lozen with her brother Quanah and Lucky. Look how big Lucky is getting!

Marianne and Rosebud

Rick shoes the famous Breeze as Cowboy (the bassett hound) supervises.

Having been shod, it's time for a bath!

Lozen and Ariel love on and admire Breeze

Monahsetah riding Burito who is AKA Don Rito or just The Don. He's a Quarterhorse, trained for roping and cattle. He's about 12 years old.

Rick surprised Ariel when he told her to climb aboard Breeze and go for a ride with everyone. Ariel has two horses of her own so she wasn’t afraid to take him up on his offer.

Monahsetah, Lozen and Ariel take off for a ride around the property

Marianne (on Rosebud) and Quanah (on Cookie)

From Marianne: “Cookie is about 8 or 9. She’s Quanah’s horse now and he likes to call her Massive Mama. His fear of riding Massive Mama vanished after a couple of minutes on my back pasture and they are now a terror. Although she is trained, has been ridden a fair amount (Rick rode her a couple of months before Quanah started on her) she has never enjoyed being a riding horse until now. It just breaks my heart (in a good way) to see the love my boy and Cookie share. He can’t keep his hands off her and she just can’t get enough. Just goes to prove that horses react to patience, love and true happiness.”

Lozen on FrostBite. Frostbite is about 4 years old. Marianne told me Frostbite's sire was Blue Dot, of the Valentine Quarterhorse line and her mama a great draft horse. Frostbite is really starting to enjoy riding, outings and human love.

Mom and Tom watching all the horsey activity

Ariel and Breeze

Breeze is around 15 or 16 years old. He’s a Paint/QH, famous (in most of Tucson) for his speed and heart. He’s a sought-after cow horse and, in his younger days, received a 2nd place in the Women’s National Barrel Competition. Breeze was also the co-star in Michael’s documentary, “The American West – On The Road With Michael Blake.” Check out the film photos featuring Michael and Breeze at the link below: http://michaelblakesamericanwest.com/The_Program.html

Doesn't it look like she's having a great time on that horse?

Ariel said that Breeze was the best trained horse she’s ever ridden. What a treat. (Thanks Rick!) She also commented how sweet the girls were to her; asking Ariel if she was okay, did she want to trot, etc. and how cool it was to see the whole family riding their horses together – how much fun that must be to enjoy on a regular basis like these guys do.

Another full day, but we still wanted to go back to the ranch to say goodnight to the horses. We arrived in late afternoon and of course, the horses thought it must be dinner time so they started towards the barn in a hurry.

El Mariachi and Tomas

Hope and Tomas

All four feet off the ground! He's flying!

Such a pretty mover

Hope rubbing her itchies away on El Mariachi

Hope sportin' a new doo

It was Monday already – the time had gone by so quickly. We made one last trip out to the ranch to see the horses.

El Mariachi finds a tree to take care of an itch

It was so interesting to watch the following interaction between El Mariachi and Tomas. It tells me that El Mariachi must truly be in a good place in his head if he’s playing, and comfortable enough to do so while we observe. Mutual grooming and playtime. A joy to watch.

Tomas came over to see what Ariel was up to. He's always curious and interested in people.

The horses wandered out of the arena and down to the creek area as we were getting ready to leave. I followed them down the road a bit and took the last two shots of El Mariachi before we said goodbye and headed to the airport. He posed beautifully for me.

I left the ranch feeling very grateful to Michael (again) for giving the horses such a peaceful existence. I spent enough time with them to see that they’ve adjusted well and seem very content in their new home. El Mariachi appeared to be much more relaxed, he’s carrying a better weight and seems to have willingly taken on both Little Boy and Tomas as his herdmates. Although El Mariachi has lost his freedom out on the range, thanks to Michael’s generosity, he’s still able to have what he probably values almost as much – a family.

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Michael Blake’s books are available through Hrymfaxe LLC (Marianne’s publishing company) and there’s the added bonus that Hrymfaxe will donate 25% off the retail prices of all titles by Michael to charities listed on the site (if you’re a rescue or an organization of any humantarian cause, be sure to apply for this very generous opportunity!

El Mariachi and Hope Update

November 8, 2009

I decided to hold off sharing the Green Mountain and Stewart Creek Woming HMA horses for just a bit. I felt it was about time for a feel good story to balance the more difficult news of late concerning our wild horses.

On October 16th (which took a long time coming!), Tom and I flew down to Arizona for a quick visit with El Mariachi, Hope and Michael (Blake). I was SO excited about getting down to see everyone again.


The first picture I took from the road up to the ranch. El Mariachi and Hope. El Mariachi has definitely filled out.

I knew Michael was probably working in his studio (and Michael would expect no less from me – HA!), so Tom and I stopped off at the barn first and went down to try to find the horses near the creek area where we had seen them as we drove up.


And there they were just in front of me. Still not particularly interested in being too close, but such is the nature of a wild horse. So darn good to see them again!


Peeking out at me


I wonder if he knows how my heart smiles whenever I see him


Such a handsome boy


I see you pretty girl



Hope has recovered as well - she looks good



Hanging out with the other horses - so peaceful




This was a big step for Hope - to lay down in front of me and roll. Not long ago, she would never have considered letting her guard down like that.


We heard, then saw Michael on the road in his old pickup (which he LOVES). It’s the very vehicle he drove to the Black Hills of South Dakota to film “Dances With Wolves.” Guess I can understand why it means so much to him.


Hope spots Michael on the road


A view of the landscape


That's Hope at the bottom of the photo

I’d gotten my horsey fix for the moment, so we followed Michael up to the ranch house. He had all sorts of news to share. Though we e-mail and talk on the phone periodically, it’s really good to spend some “real” time with him. Michael has a ton of stories about his life and all of them are interesting (some of those stories can be found in his book, “Like a Running Dog” – a fascinating read).

Later that afternoon we had the opportunity to meet professional photographer Lori Faith Merritt. Lori lives in Arizona and had met Michael about a month earlier at a fundraising event in Tucson where he had invited her to come out to the ranch at some point. Through a series of events, Lori and I connected and it was decided that she would come out to the ranch during our visit. Lori was very easy to be around, an obvious lover of all things horsey and a talented photographer. I really love her work. It was a pleasure to get to know her a little bit. I hope we’ll see her again on one of our trips and next time, we’d love to meet her husband William too (a western/cowboy music singer).


Pointing out who's who to Lori


Lori Faith Merritt




Little Boy had some cactus in his cheek and he patiently stands for Lori as she pulls the spines out for him.


And then he thanks Lori for her kindness


Lori told me that every photographer needs their own photographer. Thanks for the photo Lori. Standing in front of Twelve's grave.


Early evening means dinner time for the horses. They head up to the barn and Lori and I hang out and watch them.


El Mariachi and Hope hear someone coming down the road


It's their favorite person - Michael.


Michael and Lori

The horses were fed and the four of us chatted away until the sun went down. Then we all went up to the ranch house and talked some more. For Tom and I, it had been a long, but very satisfying and enjoyable day.

Next morning, Tom and I were down at the barn early to check on the horses, serve up breakfast and tackle a few chores.


The dogs, Timid, Diana and Scout escort us to the barn


Pretty feisty first thing in the morning - Timid and Diana


It's so peaceful just to sit with the horses in the morning. No one around. Just the sounds of the land and its critters.

El Mariachi has actually gained a little too much weight back, so his feed has been modified and cut back a bit. Because of his experience, he may have food issues for quite some time.


I just had to share this photo. Look at that beautiful foot. El Mariachi's feet look fabulous again. The rocky terrain ensures that his feet will stay naturally trimmed and healthy. Hope's feet were in worse condition, but they look almost as good.


Tommy cleaning water tanks



Diana can't resist a clean, cool drink


Tomas supervises Tom's poop removal efforts

Around 1:00, we headed up into the Santa Rita mountains in southern Arizona. We were going to meet Marianne Blake and the Blake children; Quanah, Monahsetah (Mo) and Lozen. Marianne and I had e-mailed, but hadn’t met yet. I knew by our letters that we had alot in common, but I was still a little nervous. Turns out, I didn’t need to be. She put us right at ease and took us on a tour of the ranch and all its animals.


This is Lucky. An orphaned Brangus calf that the family took home and cared for. I'm told that Lucky thinks she's a Bassett hound! She actually guards the house, just like a dog would. Too funny.


And this is one of Lucky's role models - Cowboy.


And Bean Bag - all tuckered out.

Since I can’t do the critter introductions justice, I’ll just post the information Marianne sent me about them. Notice her great sense of humor.

“Lucky The Cow, about 7 months, orphaned twice, thinks she’s an oversized, good-looking, smart (HA!) Basset hound.
Bean Bag and Cowboy, Lucky’s brothers, true hound dogs.
The horses:
Lilly, one year old filly.
Luna Sombra, almost nine months.
Frost Bite, Luna’s mama.
Penelope, AKA Grandma (Lozen’s horse), age unknown.
Burrito, Monahsetah’s gelding. AKA Don Rito because of his Mafia ways when it comes to feeding and loving.
Skinfaxe, almost two year old stallion. AKA MiniWinney.
Mark, plus forty year old gelding. Slightly senile. The self-appointed traffic cop of this outfit.
Rambler, over 30 year old gelding. Reservation horse, Hollywood Ham and con artist.
Cookie, 7 1/2 year old blue roan, Hancock, quarterhorse mare. Temperamental during feeding time. Curious and trouble prone.
And finally there’s Rosebud – 4 year old daughter of Cookie, major trouble maker, escape artist extraordinaire, curious, cowhorse who’s afraid of the very dangerous horse eating rocks and boulders covering the ground in this area.”


Monahsetah (she let me call her Mo since I had so much trouble with her beautiful name) and Mark - the 40+ year old gelding.


Rambler - the 30+ year old Reservation horse.


Monahsetah with Cookie (enjoying a good scratch)


Tom gives young Lilly a good scratch


Marianne, Lilly and Tom


Marianne (pronounced Marianna - she's Danish) and Tom


Monahsetah and Lucky as Cowboy looks on.


Lozen watches Rick (family friend and business partner) trim the plaster of Paris horse she's just made.


Quanah reaches for a ball. It was so nice to see all the kids playing outdoors, making things and enjoying the animals.

They had stories of their own to tell about each 4-legged family member, (Marianne is a huge animal lover) the cattle they raise and some of their misadventures with them. Despite what they told us (there’s a certain bull I don’t want to meet), Marianne and Rick invited us to go up into the mountains to check cattle with them on a future visit. I just have to figure out a safe way to bring my camera with me when we go. πŸ™‚

Along with the ranch and the cattle, Marianne owns a publishing company called Hrymfaxe (http://www.hrymfaxe.com – be sure to watch for an exciting announcement from Hrymfaxe). She also owns Double Eagle Films, Inc. and has the rights to “The Holy Road,” the sequel to “Dances With Wolves.” Right now, it looks like she’ll be making the movie in the summer of next year. Something to look forward to. Very cool!

We visited for 2-3 hours and then headed back to Michael’s for some evening shots of the horses before we had to leave way too early the next morning for home. We didn’t get those evening shots however. We got back, started talking with Michael and before we realized it, the sun was disappearing. Tom and I hurried down to the barn, but only got a few shots of the fading light over the horizon. It was beautiful.





We walked back up to the house in total darkness. Lori had told us that the tarantulas come out at night which made us both a little uneasy about our footsteps as we followed the road. Luckily, we had no squishy encounters.

We had to leave the ranch at about 4:00 AM the next morning to make our flight. We gave ourselves an extra 10 minutes so that we’d have time to say goodbye to the horses. What a wonderful time of day that is in Arizona. Cool, slight breeze and so quiet. The horses must’ve thought we were crazy, but we talked to them briefly and then headed down the road. Until next time…


A painting of El Mariachi and Hope made by Monahsetah for Michael's birthday. I love it.

(Below is some video that I took with a point ‘n shoot camera that my Mom lets Tom use on our trips. It was an experiment, I don’t know how to edit so please excuse the noise of the wind, but I hope you enjoy the very short clip of an evening feeding. Maybe I’ll do better next time. :-)).

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